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Paying Attention to the Risk of Nursing Home Elopement

The days are getting shorter. Daylight Saving Time has ended. Only a few leaves remain on the trees and there’s a distinct chill in the air. Winter will be upon us soon.

Pennsylvanians who have elderly relatives living in nursing homes get nervous every November, and their unease lasts until the following May. That’s because the late autumn and winter are prime months for deadly cases of elopement from nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

Elopement: It Doesn’t Mean “Running Off to Get Married”

The majority of nursing home residents are elderly. About half suffer from various stages of dementia, which means they cannot reliably assess their own needs, orient themselves in time and place, or anticipate emergencies and react appropriately to changing circumstances. They need regular supervision in a structured environment.

However, a residential facility with a poorly trained staff—or even one with too few staff members available for supervisory roles—can lose track of residents. It only requires a brief period of inattention for a resident to put on his hat and slip out an unlocked door. He may be dressed in pajamas and slippers, and may easily lose his sense of direction in a Dauphin County snow shower. He may wander into traffic and be struck by a passing vehicle. He can easily slip on a patch of ice and break his femur.

The problem of elopement—“wandering off” nursing home premises—is a persistent danger in senior residential facilities across the nation at all times of the year. But winter months in temperate states such as Pennsylvania are a special time of concern for nursing home elopement. At this time of year, the hours of daylight are short and the nights are long. The weather is especially dangerous for the feeble constitutions of seniors. It should be no surprise that death rates for elopement cases spike in the wintertime.

“These Things Just Happen” Is NOT an Acceptable Explanation

In the wake of an elopement tragedy, nursing home administrators often say they are sorry for the consequences, but that the incident was not something that could have been predicted or avoided. This is a lie. Nursing homes accept residents knowing that they are in need of specially heightened levels of supervision and security. When the nursing home staff fails to provide a reasonable level of supervision and security appropriate for the residents’ known challenges, then the staff is legally liable for the consequences.

Some studies suggest that between 20 and 30 percent of residents in nursing homes wander off at least once during their stay. It’s no surprise that about one in every ten negligence lawsuits against nursing homes involves an incident of elopement.

If your loved one has wandered from her Pennsylvania nursing home, you may have a valid legal claim against the owners, administrators, or staff at that facility for any harm done to your relative. Call (717) 888-8888 toll-free to schedule a FREE consultation with a Harrisburg nursing home neglect attorney.

The personal injury lawyers at Schmidt Kramer work closely with clients in Cumberland County, Perry County, Schuylkill County, Dauphin County, and the surrounding areas to hold negligent nursing homes to account. If you need legal advice after an elopement incident involving your parent or grandparent—do not wait. Your initial conference with our attorney will be free, and we will never send you a legal bill unless we win a financial recovery for your case.